Ohio State football head coach Ryan Day is not fond of the criticism Justin Fields has received ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.
In fact, Day thinks some have been “a little reckless with their comments,” but his recent defense of the young quarterback fell incredibly flat in one aspect.
One of Fields’ most prominent critics has been ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky, who recently raised questions about the 22-year-old during an appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show.” One of them is his rumored “last-guy-in, first-guy-out” mentality and lack of a “maniacal work ethic” on and off the gridiron.
Critiques like these have not sat well with Day as the draft quickly approaches, and he is not letting them go unchecked any longer. Instead of simply boosting up Fields’ abilities, though, Day decided to tear down players that opted out of the season due to COVID-19 as part of his argument.
“The whole idea that he doesn’t have a very good work ethic? I mean, to me, that’s crazy,” Day told ProFootballTalk’s Peter King in a phone interview Saturday afternoon. “He got done with the Clemson game (the loss in the college football playoffs in the 2019 season) and he came back and all he did was work to get back to that game. And when those other guys are opting out, what’s he do? He petitions to have a season. He put together this petition that the Big Ten athletes all signed saying that they want to play, but they want to play safely and that they don’t accept canceling the season. It was all led by Justin Fields. Where was everybody else? Where were the guys who were opting out then? You know, you don’t love the game if you’re doing something like that. This kid loves the game.
“… Last one in? Every morning, at least every morning we could be in the building, early, he’s in with (football sports performance czar) Mickey Marotti. The guys who were self-motivated and could do things on their own, those were the ones who made it. He was unbelievable. He changed his diet, he got stronger. He did better than most.”
Let’s tackle both sides of this debate.
For reference, Fields helped Ohio State to the National Championship Game in 2020 after COVID-19 rattled the college football scene. He has won the Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year Award two seasons in a row and was a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2019. (And those are just some of the accolades from his college career.)
We are not experts, but something tells us some incredible work ethic goes into achieving all of the feats he has under his belt. Talent alone is not enough to be the best in the business these days, though it certainly does go a long way. So, to suggest his work is a potential red flag seems a tad out of whack.
That said, Day put his privilege on display by calling out players who dared to opt out due to COVID-19, and it ultimately hurts his argument.
There are a variety of reasons why players chose to take a season off, but none bigger than protecting the health and safety of themselves and the ones they love during an ongoing pandemic. And while Fields was not one of them, that does not make him any more dedicated to the game than his peers that did not play in 2020. To suggest opting out due to COVID-19 signals a lack of commitment to the game is ignorant at best, to put it lightly.
Ultimately, Day’s heart was in the right place. But he probably should have left other players (and COVID-19) out of it.